British actor Eddie Redmayne is certainly no stranger to taking on big and challenging roles. His portrayal of physicist Stephen Hawking in 2014’s The Theory of Everything won him an Academy award and many film buffs are tipping him to win his second Oscar this year for his depiction of Danish artist Lili Elbe, a transgender woman who was one of the first people to undergo gender reassignment surgery. Directed by Tom Hooper, The Danish Girl explores Lili’s journey of self-discovery and the special relationship shared with her wife Gerda. QNews. Before the film’s Australian release this week, we caught up with Eddie to get his views on taking on such a big role.
Could you tell us about the extraordinary Lili and the story of The Danish Girl?
When I first read this script I knew nothing about Lili and Gerda’s story and what I read was this deeply overwhelming and highly passionate love story, which questioned the boundaries of love. Also within this was a story of authenticity and what it takes just to be yourself, and, as simple as that sounds it is the most complex of things and so for me, those were the things that I was after in portraying Lili and those were the themes of the film that grabbed me when I read the script and that I was trying to make sure was sung when we finished it.
Were you daunted by the challenge and, in some ways was that part of why you wanted to do it?
I felt a great responsibility being offered the part, Lili is such an extraordinary woman and an icon in the trans community and I felt very lucky to be given the opportunity to play her. One is daunted in the way that one is always daunted, just because you don’t want to let people down, you don’t want to let her memory down but it was excitement as well.
This film had a few years before you and Tom first spoke about it and it came to the screen, did you use some of that time to prepare, and if so how did you prepare?
I did, the film wasn’t green lit until much later, long after I’d been given the script so in that time I had worked with Lana Wachowski. We’d talked about Lili together and she had owned art by Gerda and really pointed me then to books to read; Kate Bornstein’s book Gender Outlaw and Jan Morris’s book Conundrum as places to start educating myself but, this was before we knew when the film was going to happen so for me it was just about life and educating myself.
Lili and Gerda were both wonderful artists and you had to paint too, how was that?
Do you know what, I love painting so I was actually quite excited. I’m not a great artist but I do enjoy painting and I did particularly as a kid. But what was interesting to me was the difference between Gerda’s paintings and Lili’s when she was living as Einar. If you look at Einar Wegener’s paintings there is something very specific about them and they’re sort of contained whereas Gerda’s are much freer and that was interesting to me because you look at photos or drawings of Lili when she was living as Einar and she’d have these huge collars that were sort of almost strangling and it was like an exoskeleton that she’d built up. And as Lili begins to reveal herself it was about uncovering those things.
Tom talked about one of the reasons why he wanted to work with you again was that he thought you would be able to get in touch with that feminine side, did you talk about that?
I don’t know if we talked about it too much it’s interesting, directors always look for things in actors and then we just try and find the character but it was interesting, I mean, I look identical to my mum. My first ever professional job was playing Viola in Twelfth Night and so the notion of the feminine in me was not a surprise at all, it was really riveting for me to investigate.
Can you talk a little bit about working with Tom, you clearly work together very well.
The weird thing is when you start acting you’re a one-man-band and if you’re lucky enough to get jobs, you go from different jobs to different and whole new groups of people and it can be a bit lonely at times. What’s amazing is if you befriend people and you get to work with them again. Tom is a friend and he’s seen a lot of my work so he knows all my tropes and my tricks and we can have a level of honesty which cuts to the chase and so it was a real great treat to get to work with a friend who just happens to have an extraordinary talent.
The Danish Girl is in cinemas now.